East African Coffee Company is a coffee supply company. They buy raw coffee beans from Rwanda, then wash, roast, and sell them to coffee shops in Turkey. This makes it a business-to-business brand that will be seen by consumers: coffee shops will buy the beans in bulk, and customers will know that they’re from East African Coffee Co. But of course that’s nothing new, there’s many coffee brands that sell in bulk to shops, that’s just good business sense. However, East African Coffee Company sources the best beans from Rwanda and washes and processes them with less water than traditional coffee processing.
Our audience for the project was coffee shops, largely in Turkey. That meant research in the local market. The idea was to position East African Coffee Co as a quality alternative to larger international brands like Illy, Lavazza, and Segafredo by making the branding more accessible. And avoiding bright primary red. We also wanted to emphasize the origin of the coffee itself, Eastern Africa.
We considered the giraffe and the mountain gorilla, but settled on the elephant because it symbolizes stability, wisdom, and intelligence. Elephants are amazing animals, and both the client and I are very happy with our decision to use one as the basis for the logo.
In design, quality can be conveyed through simplicity and cleanliness. In a sense, professionalism. If all the customer has for comparison is visual branding, the brand that best follows the norms of its industry and shows that it belongs while clearly expressing its values will likely win. Essentially, I you have to show you know the rules and break a few.
Breaking the rules is the part where we express authenticity. The East African Coffee Co logo and branding is significantly simpler than other coffee brands. My preliminary market research indicated that script fonts were very common and there seemed to be a trend toward complex patterns. There was also a trend toward a “rustic” feel in the more niche markets, with rough edges to the lettering and slab-serif fonts. I wanted to avoid both unnecessary complexity and a sense of pandering that comes with a new brand trying too look old. On the other hand, the goal is to make the brand look professional without looking “designed.” A great brand doesn’t just look great, it has to look natural too.
The project started with a mood board. The client sent me some pictures of brands she liked and I extrapolated on those ideas and added some of my own.
We decided early on that “stamped” logos would be a large influence. Essentially, this meant that we would be working with a one-color logo. Personally, I like the challenge and simplicity of the one-color approach. It tends to be very scale-able, distinctive, and versatile. Sometimes a logo needs more colors, but simplicity is always my goal.
Many of the ideas in the mood board were dropped for this project and are likely to play a bigger role in a future brand we’re working on. That said, the mood board was still effective because it allowed the client to visualize a handful of approaches and sort of imagine their brand name on some of them. It allowed us to talk about styles with some concrete visuals as examples and I feel it expedited the discovery phase.
The client and I chose an elephant as the symbol for the brand because they’re a symbol of sorts for Eastern Africa. They’re strong, steady, dependable, intelligent, and majestic animals, so what’s not to love? We also considered giraffes and mountain gorillas, but settled on the elephant because of its outstanding cultural connotations. They’re bold, kind of like a good cup of coffee.
Of course, it’s hard to get away from Fair Trade branding tropes when working with coffee brands: hands holding coffee beans, swooshy people icons, cups, bold sans serifs, distressed iconography, and of course the classic coffee bean morphing into something else. We agreed to avoid all of those cliches in favor of something more subtle and natural-feeling. We wanted to capture a sense of the culture of Rwanda and East Africa without being patronizing, to pay tribute to the natural beauty of Africa and the quality of coffee that comes from that region of the world. I sampled the color palette from traditional Imigongo art from Rwanda.
We explored very simple versions and more complex woodcut-style designs, settling on a bold elephant with simple sans-serif typography to match. The elephant itself is a tad primitivist with a hint of Swiss/International Style, and a shot of espresso.
Selen, co-owner of East African Coffee Co and my main point of contact, got in touch with me through my website. She sent me a pretty good overview of the company, its business, and the goals she and her partner have for the brand. We set up an initial consultation to fill in some details and to get a better feel for the direction of the brand. We agreed on the price and scope of the project, I sent over a proposal, she sent the initial deposit, and we got started.
The first step for me is always creating a mood board. I like to make them in the form of Pinterest boards so that both the client and I can add items and comment on them. So essentially, the brand started here.
We set up another call to discuss the mood board and so that I could gauge her reactions to a few ideas I had going. At this point, we agreed on an elephant as the main logo mark and we talked a little typography. After the call, I grabbed a cup of coffee, looked at my notes, and opened up my sketchbook. It begins.
As it turns out, my first sketch was the right solution, but I filled up five or so more pages just to make sure. I sent the client the three best elephants and a few ideas on the fonts. We had another call and went over the pros and cons of each, and ended up with more-or-less the final iteration. I tried rendering the elephant with its trunk up, but it really threw off the balance of the piece.
After a quick vectoring in Illustrator, I set up a few type options and sent them over. We decided that an outline version of the elephant would be useful. It turned out looking a lot better than I imagined and we added it as an option in the branding package. I chose Quicksand by Andrew Paglinawan for the main font and Lato by Łukasz Dziedzic. I’ve used Quicksand in the past and it’s a very versatile display font. I chose Lato as its compliment because it matched the geometric shapes in Quicksand without drawing attention to itself. Both are Google Fonts, so they can be used on the company’s website as well as marketing collateral, making the visual identity even more consistent.
From there, I created an initial draft of the East African Coffee Company brand guidelines with all the variations or “lockups” as well as a preview of the business cards, stationery, envelopes, and a short list of “Do’s and Don’ts” for the brand. We went over it together and decided cut a few versions. I made the resulting changes and exported all the lockups in .eps, .png, .pdf, and .svg formats. We will export jpegs as necessary on a case-by-case basis to custom-fit them to the application.
Selen sent the final payment and I sent her a link to a (very large) .zip file with the updated brand guidelines and the exported logos. We have another coffee company logo to do, something consumer-facing, so we’ll be moving on to that while also building up the website and packaging. I’ll of course post those as they’re completed.
This was a very smooth project overall. The client trusted me to design the brands. She’s an expert in coffee, I’m an expert in branding, and we worked well together. She learned some of the basics of branding and design and I gained a deeper appreciation of coffee by learning where it comes from and about the processes it goes through to reach consumers and help wake up a large portion of the world every morning. I am very interested in coffee and coffee shop branding and would love to work more in this industry.